Updated: Apr 1
Or maybe things aren’t changing at all. You’re working on your relationship, you think, doing everything you can, but nothing seems to make a difference. You’re trying to lose weight, but it’s not coming off. You’re trying to be a better basketball player, but you keep getting shut out under the basket.
Why? you say. I try and try and nothing seems to work. Am I just...defective?
Well, maybe... No, just kidding. No, you’re not defective. You just haven’t taken the crucial final step. I’ve seen this a million times.
Let’s focus on changing things in your relationship, but the secret I want to share here applies everywhere you and I get stuck and find that change isn’t happening.
The problem isn’t you, but it is in your attachment to yourself. Here’s the rule for how people work, you, me, everybody. We want “things” to change, and we want other people to change, but we don’t want to change. I mean, we’ll take a pill. Sure. We’ll take advice if it fits in with our world view. We’ll do things differently if it’s convenient to do so and if it fits into our sense of who we are: people who are very food and health-conscious will happily and easily switch over to the latest food fad; the rest of us, not so much.
But you know who really DOES change, and changes big time? The person who has no allegiance to his or her “true self.” The person who’s willing to throw his “self” under the bus in the interest of change. The person who’s willing to let go of their addiction to being told you’re wonderful just the way you are.
INSTEAD, people who change embrace what we can call the protean self, named after the Greek god Proteus who could change into any form he wanted. As you see here!!:
Well, I guess none of us want to look like that! But if we really want to change, we have to break out of the body cast that’s been preventing us from being able to change.
And that requires your being able to say a mere nine words:
“I no longer want to be a person who...”
Who what? Hey, that’s up to you. No, cancel that. You’re casting off your old self, so why are you asking it for advice?? So, you no longer want to be a person who what? Whatever the situation requires.
There’s no self to stand in the way of serving the needs of the situation.
This obstacle comes up all the time with couples. Random example: your partner needs you to talk more quietly. Sure, fine, you think, but, well, it’s hard. Why? Because it’s not you. You’re intense, passionate, alive! It’s just not you to talk in hushed tones. So you say you’ll try to talk more quietly, but you just don’t. You fail. It’s not a failure of being unable to talk quietly. It’s a failure of being able to try. And that fails because you’re holding on to that loud-talking self. You don’t want that self to die to you. You want to hold on to that self at all costs. You were never able to say, “I no longer want to be a person who talks loudly.”
“At all costs” is right. That’s how marriages end. In a choice between doing what was necessary to make the relationship work and maintaining an allegiance to your old self, you couldn’t stop choosing your old self.
It’s just the way attempts at losing weight fail. You never really wanted to stop being a person who ate a certain way. So of course you couldn’t stop so of course the pounds clung to you just the way your old self did.
Now if you’ve been a faithful reader of these blogs, you’ve read us talking about a healthy relationship being a place for two whole people. So aren’t I contradicting myself when I talk about casting off your old self?
No. Because I’m not talking about letting go of your entire self, every bit of it. Of course not. Just the parts that
a.) get in the way of a change you really want to make happen and
b.)you treasure least.
I mean, just because you identify talking loudly, for example, with who you are doesn’t mean that your talking-loudly self is the part of you you really treasure.
So, look. Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m not promoting some kind of ideology here. I’m a pragmatist. I’m just talking about what works, period. And people who are happy and successful at the things they care about in life are not only willing to do what’s necessary to make things work, they’re willing to be the person who can do those things.
The fairy tale is that you just be who are and the world falls in love with you. And every once in a while things work out that way. But 99.99 percent of the time people who get the lives they want do so by tossing overboard the parts of themselves that stand in the way of that.
Why Couples Fight will give you everything you need to have a relationship where two whole people both get their needs met without bitterness and acrimony. But the more you can say “I no longer want to be a person who...,” the easier and faster the changes will come.